By Charles Shorts
Problem, solution. Emergency, out of the crisis. Statesman, economist, banker: the idea of launching public health vouchers is the whole human and curricular story of Mario Monti. The proposal for the creation of a financial instrument to deal with the Coronavirus emergency, launched by the columns of Corriere della Sera, is excellent because in it the Honorary President of Bocconi has foreseen both the problems, economic, political and social, as well as the implementation necessary to launch an initiative that will help to tackle a difficult and complex issue such as the health crisis that we are experiencing these days.
Sober as ever, Monti writes that he has only sketched out the idea. In fact, the proposal in its essential features is already well defined. The former European Commissioner writes: “One could think about issuing a loan to the Italian Republic called “Investments in the Health of Italy” or “Public Health Bonds” or “Health of Italy Bonds” for the international market. It should be an issue for a very substantial amount, long-term or irredeemable, but negotiable in the secondary market; at a fixed and very low interest rate (today even a zero rate could be interesting, if the flood of liquidity that will be created to counter the recessionary effects of the pandemic will further lower interest rates in negative territory), at the most favourable tax conditions, including exemption from any future taxation. Less short-sighted investors would see in this clause, perhaps realistically, an indication that if issues such as this were to meet with market favour, the likelihood of having to resort to an asset tax in the future would be reduced, while in itself a severe economic and financial crisis resulting from the pandemic could only increase them. In this way – concludes the Professor – the Italians of today who can afford it would help Italy to equip itself with high-level health facilities throughout the country, placing only part of the burden of this on the Italians of tomorrow”.
Mario Monti had started from a very lucid analysis of the situation, made by points. Let’s read it: “1) Italians are experiencing a moment of great concern, from which, however, three civic virtues seem to arise, which do not always abound in us: a) lucidity: the State can serve, etc.; our tax money serves something; b) a sense of belonging: we Italians, after all, are capable of fighting for common goals, when we see that they are really common. c) public solidarity: many Italians dedicate time, effort and money to a myriad of exemplary initiatives of voluntary solidarity, in the country or abroad; but they are wary of the solidarity (between geographical areas, between the wealthy and needy, between generations) that is exercised by public policies. Well, seeing the national health system and its valiant personnel at work in these days, we probably re-evaluate the great solidarity that passes through the State, fed by the fiscal system and carried out by social policies”.
In the article that appeared in Corriere della Sera, at the second point of his reasoning, Monti widens his gaze to Europe and writes: 2) The other Europeans, looking at Italy today and seeing in it the tomorrow of their countries, seem ready not to throw out the principles of a healthy budgetary policy (as many Italians would do without any concern if there were no European rules and market pressures, and as many Italian governments have done for decades, before those rules and pressures), but to understand that public health has a higher priority. Even Merkel, with a common sense that should be seized on the fly – before the “Hanseatic” hawks, which the most up-to-date ornithologists define as “predators of northern Europe, hungry for southern deficits” – has shown Italy the way to “invest in its own health system”, as it will not be hindered by “a rule on debt”.
In short, in Monti’s proposal there is the why and the why, that is, as we said, the problem, the analysis and the solution. Which is then the typical approach of this world-famous economist who has done so much for Italy and Europe. Merits that many people in this country tend to forget. Also illuminating is the conclusion of the article in which Monti also sends a not too veiled invitation to hurry up. “I have limited myself to sketching an idea – writes the Senator for life – how the community, through the State, can benefit for itself, in the form of ample and convenient financing of present and future public health, from the particular moods that in these days seem to be established in Italy and Europe. And which may not last very long”. Transforming the crisis into opportunities. And do it now. Will the opinion of one of the most qualified people in this country be heard? I don’t know. We’ll see. The coronavirus has been in Italy for a few months. Masochism, on the other hand, is a dysfunction we haven’t eradicated in these parts yet.